According to reports, BP failed to disclose to government investigators for nearly a year that a BP scientist had found a deposit of flammable gas that was previously unreported and that may have been a factor in the devastating oil spill that affected the Gulf of Mexico. Although it is unknown whether the two foot wide area of gas-bearing sands was a significant factor in the disaster, the findings could result in further legal trouble for BP as it fights court battles that could cost the company billions of dollars. A federal report detailing the cause of the disaster is expected to be released in the near future.
In a closed deposition taken two months ago, Galina Skripnikova, a BP petrophysicist, disclosed that there appeared to be a zone of gas more than 300 feet above where BP told its contractors and regulators the shallowest zone was located. Having an accurate depth of the oil and gas is critical to determine the amount of cement needed to seal a well adequately. The top of the cement is required to be 500 feet above the shallowest zone holding hydrocarbons, which would mean that cement job for BP’s deep water well may have been well below where it should have been.
“This is a critical factor, where the hydrocarbons are found,” said Satish Nagarajaiah, an engineering professor at Rice University. “I think further studies are needed to determine where this exactly was and what response was initiated by BP if they knew this fact.” Based on the new disclosures, cement contractor Halliburton has filed litigation against BP asserting that the statements prove that BP knew about the shallower gas before the explosion and should have obtained a new cement and well design. BP has denied the allegations.
The BP oil spill was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Some experts believe the error with the placement of the cement played a role in the disaster, while others say the blast could have occurred even if the cement was placed in a higher position in the well. Investigators have also faulted misreadings of key data, the failure of the blowout preventer from stopping the oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, and a variety of other shortcomings by executives, engineers, and rig crew members. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement declined to say how the new disclosures would affect the investigation team’s final report.